A Red Admiral

It is good to always take your camera along, wherever you go. This Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was on the gravel in the parking lot of our local recycling center. So we got a bonus when we took our papers and bottles.

Red Admiral butterfly

A Red Admiral

The scientific name Vanessa atalanta has an interesting derivation. It was conferred by Johan Christian Fabricius, a Danish scientist who was a student of Linnaeus. Fabricius gave scientific names to more than 9,500 insect species. The generic name he chose, Vanessa, which is now a common girl’s name, was coined by the famous author Jonathan Swift (who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and many other works). Swift had a lady friend named Esther Vanhomrigh. He coined the nickname, Vanessa, for her by taking the first three letters of her last name and appending “essa”, which was often used as a nickname for  persons named Esther. The specific name “atalanta is derived from a mythological figure. Atalanta was a huntress and a favorite of the goddess Artemis. She participated in many famous events, including the hunt for the Golden Fleece and the killing of the Kalydonian Boar. Atalanta was determined not to be married, but her father insisted that she wed. Atalanta agreed on condition that the successful suitor must beat her in a race and that all suitors who lost would be killed. She felt certain that no man could beat her in a race. Hippomenes foiled her, however, with the help of the goddess Aphrodite, who gave him three special golden apples. When Hippomenes threw these down one at a time at various points during the race, Atalanta stopped to pick each apple up,  Hippomenes was able to win the race, and they were wed.

Red Admiral caterpillars feed on Stinging Nettle plants (Urtica dioica). They enjoy some sanctuary from large herbivores, because the hairs on these plants are very irritating to most creatures. So be careful if you are trying to collect some.


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